5 lessons from Eric Cantor’s utter defeat

1. The Tea Party is not dead. That’s the most obvious, but still sadly necessary, takeaway from Rep. Eric Cantor’s 10-point loss in yesterday’s Republican primary in Virginia’s 7th congressional district.

This great protest movement was said to be done, spent and played out by people who tell us how to think about politics, and they were wrong.

Tea Partiers have had some hits and some misses but they just took down a sitting Majority Leader of the U.S. House of Representatives. To borrow a phrase from The Princess Bride, that’s not even “mostly dead.”

2. No record beats a bad record. The primary winner, economics prof Dave Brat, has never cast a single public vote before. Cantor has cast thousands, many of them controversial among Republican primary voters.

Cantor tried to spin this to his advantage, arguing at a GOP convention last month, “It is easy to sit in the rarefied environs of academia, in the ivory towers of a college campus with no accountability and no consequence, when you are throwing stones at those of us who are working every day to make a difference.”

Cantor’s words failed to convince enough voters, then or last night. They preferred a candidate who had cast no public votes to one who had cast many votes they didn’t like.

3. Going negative can backfire. The point is made by Politix editor and friend David Mark, who literally wrote the book on negative campaigning: if you decide to call out your opponent, you’d better get it right. Otherwise, it will backfire badly.

That’s part of the story of Cantor’s epic defeat. Cantor and company went sharply negative in the media offensive against Brat. Many voters found this offensive, not only because of the tone of the ads but because of misrepresentations of Brat’s position and positions.

For instance, here is Cantor taking a page out of the Democrats’ demagogic playbook and attacking “radical professor” Dave Brat’s “plan to cut Social Security.”

4. Republicans and Tea Partiers don’t want “comprehensive immigration reform.” Party activists are not completely close-minded on the subject of immigration. But after Obamacare they’re going to be highly suspicious of any large-scale grand bargain.

Remember, they don’t trust President Barack Obama to enforce America’s existing immigration laws. So any deal that trades some form of amnesty for illegals for the promise of greater enforcement later, under this administration, is a nonstarter. Any Republican who doesn’t understand that at this point may have a problem.

5. American democracy is awesome and the Tea Party is making it better. Real change can happen at the ballot box here in a way that it just doesn’t in most countries. When the old guard of either party gets too comfortable, we the people don’t have to stand for it. We can toss them out.

That’s what happened yesterday. It was a win for the Tea Party and a win for America.

Jeremy Lott About the author:
Jeremy Lott helped found and manage four publications for the Real Clear Politics family of websites. He is the author of three books and an e-book, as well as the recognized ghostwriter of former Maryland governor Marvin Mandel’s memoirs. Follow him on Twitter @jeremylottdiary
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